“Minamioguni（南小国町 Minamioguni-machi）is a town located in Aso District, Kumamoto Prefecture, Japan.
The town has an estimated population of 4,643 and a density of 40.07 persons per km2.
The total area is 115.86 km2.” (Wikipedia)
Don’t be discouraged by the non-information on Wikipedia. Even if Wikipedia only spends three lines on a place, it doesn’t mean that it is not worth visiting. In contrary, I think this means it makes Minamioguni an even more attractive place as it has yet to be discovered by the bigger public.
Minamioguni is like a “hot spring heaven”. Since ancient times it has been loved by many people as a hot spring sanatorium. It is a very attractive place for people who are looking for a quiet spot off the beaten track.
Manganji Onsen (満願寺温泉) is one of Minamioguni’s famous hot spring areas and is home to some unique spas. An example of this is the open-air bath, which is situated along the river. Many people still come here to do their laundry, wash their dishes, clean vegetables and enjoy the beautiful scenery while enjoying a hot bath in the open air. It is a sight that may make you feel as if you just stepped out of a time machine after having arrived in some long-forgotten ancient time.
But the most famous hot spring area in Minamioguni is Kurokawa Onsen (黒川温泉), with numerous outdoor baths (露天風呂 rotenburo) and beautiful atmospheric, traditional Japanese style inns (旅館 ryokan). Whether you would like to relax, try to find inspiration for your next piece of art, or whether you are just looking to get a glimpse of beautiful Japanese architecture surrounded by incredible nature, this is a place that you must have visited once in your life.
You’ll discover baths along the river and in the woods, in the center of town or overlooking mountain views, cave baths, rocky pools, wooden tubs, standing baths, mixed baths, historic baths, modern baths and more..
In Kurokawa you are guaranteed to see Japanese dressed in traditional Japanese style bathrobes or “summer kimonos” (浴衣 yukata). If you want to blend in you may even rent a Yukata set yourself. Yukata sets are available at the Bechin-kan building (a building located just behind the Visitor Center in Kurokawa).
But Minamioguni offers more than hot springs. It is also a popular destination for couples seeking to ensure a happy love life. These couples would typically visit the Meoto Falls (夫婦滝).
The Meoto Falls consists of two waterfalls, which are facing each other. They reflect the legend of the tragic love between a samurai and a young woman from the village. Nowadays, many people visit this place to pray for a successful love life and to perpetuate their vow on one of the many hearts that can be found on the route towards the falls.
Apart from beautiful waterfalls, such as the Meoto Falls, Minamioguni is also home to a nature reserve where many unique and rare flora and fauna can be found.
Part of this national park is the Mazeno Gorge (マゼノ渓谷), which maintains its authenticity and beauty throughout all four seasons of the year.
The “Mystery Road” (ミステリーロード) runs through this mountainous area and offers great views. It is the perfect road for a great drive on a beautiful day and it will take you to yet another landmark…
Oshito Ishi (押戸石). Hundreds of smaller and bigger rocks are located in the hills on the northern part of Mt. Aso’s caldera. The biggest of these rocks is called Oshito Ishi.
Petroglyphs were found around the side of this rock. So, it is believed that Sumerian sailors were utilizing this spot as a place for festivities. Even if you couldn’t be bothered with the historical importance of this site it is still a place very well worth visiting, as it will provide you with one of most breathtaking views in the entire Aso area. And if we are talking about beautiful views I would also have to mention Senomoto Plateau.
Senomoto Plateau (瀬の本高原) stretches out over Minamioguni and Taketa City (Oita Prefecture). It offers impressive views of the Kuju mountain range and Mt. Aso. On a good day you may be able to enjoy the magnificent view of Mt. Aso, covered in a sea of clouds.
Senomoto Plateau also offers the widest panoramic view in all of Japan.
Minamioguni is also home to many traditional art forms. Among these are sacred music and ritual dances, such as: Nakabaru Gaku (中原楽), Shishimai (獅子舞), Yoshiwara Kagura (吉原神楽) and Tanoharu Bon Odori (田の原盆踊り).
Many of these art forms were handed down from one generation to the next. They often include traditional instruments (e.g. taiko drums, shakuhachi), fashion (including masks), weapons (e.g. katana) and other cultural items.
After indulging yourself in all of the wonders that one can find in Minamioguni it is time for some great food. Japanese people travel from all over Japan to Minamioguni just to taste the best handmade soba (Japanese buckwheat noodles) available. In fact, Minamioguni made soba so famous that they have an entire street named after the food. In this “Soba Street” you can find various shops and restaurants where handmade soba is sold.
The legendary Doburoku is the drink recommended by locals. It is a home-brewed kind of Sake. Originally it was called “Kusu” and it is said that the Japanese word for “medicine” (薬 kusuri) has derived from this. Doburoku includes yeast and enzymes. So, it is a very nutritious drink. While you are in Minamioguni you should at least try drinking this once in order to feel the true Japanese “spirit”.
Minamioguni is not only a very beautiful place; it is also filled with beautiful people. The locals are very friendly and everyone seems to be very well balanced. Maybe this is because of the (local) healthy organic food and the great mountain air that people take in on a daily basis.
People enjoy a slow-paced lifestyle and why wouldn’t they? The area gives plentiful opportunities to refresh the body and mind and it would be a waste not to enjoy these facilities.
Oguni cedar trees (小国杉) dominate the beautiful landscape of Minamioguni.
As Oguni cedar has become the symbol of Minamioguni it can also be found in the coat of arms of the town. To emphasize the importance of cedar trees in the area even more, the new town hall will be constructed entirely of cedar trees.
The beautiful red luster and soft touch of the tree give the wood a relaxing atmosphere, making it a very suitable material for manufacturing.
Sawmills in town scrap of about 300 – 600kg of cedar wood waste per day.
Although the practical use for this wood waste has not been determined, most of it ends up being used for woodwork.
Edwin Huits has lived in Minami Oguni since 2012. A few of his many interests include traveling, music, martial arts, and studying foreign languages.
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